Cavaliers

Kevin Love discusses mental health and the past four years in Cleveland: WFNY Q&A

Kevin Love Channing Frye Locker Room Talk

It has been over eight months since Kevin Love pulled back the curtain to unveil a lifetime of struggle. It has been a year to the month when Love left the court in an early-November game shortly after halftime with what he refers to as a panic attack.

Elevated heart rate. Shortness of breath. Dryness of mouth. The feeling that an arena full of strobe lights and screaming fans was revolving around him at a rapid speed. And the subsequent concern that someone would find out about it all. That a professional athlete could simultaneously put up All-Star numbers while taking physical shots in the paint but also be mentally vulnerable to the point of panic was largely unheard of.

But therein lies the rub—just because we haven’t heard about it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist, which is when Love decided to take the steps necessary to share his story.

What transpired was an entire spring and summer of Love being asked to elaborate on things. A 6-foot-10-inch advocate, Love spoke to everyone from ESPN to Carson Daly about the struggles and his hopes that he could impact at least one person to feel more comfortable within their own skin.

One year after Love’s mid-game attack, WFNY had the chance to catch up with the Cavaliers’ star. What did he expect to happen? How have things changed for him since? And how has this season weighed on him as he’s been forced to watch rather than play?

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WFNY: I’m sure it’s been a gauntlet of interviews for you as of late, so I appreciate you taking the time.

Kevin Love: You got it.

We’ll circle back to the beginning. On March 6, you dropped the tell-all essay. Before that went live, what did you think was going to happen and how does it compare to what’s taken place since then?

Success is not immune to depression.

— Cavaliers forward Kevin Love

I really didn’t know. It was a vulnerable moment for me in that there was the potential to have a lot of eyes on it. I had the conversation with my agent and he wanted to make sure he knew what I was getting myself into, and what the response would be as it could be taken in a positive way or not. But I wanted to share my story and had a good idea that it could help the next person, pay it forward, or help a lot of people. Then I press ‘send’ and it changed my life. Now here I am today, working with Schick Hydro, the Movember Foundation, and my fund, and it’s all centered around mental health which I never envisioned.

Right after the fact I had written the article, there were thousands of emails. It was massively covered, and a lot of people have come up to me sharing their respective stories. It was really a time in my life that I’ll remember for ever, but the wild thing to me was the community that surfaced after that. Knowing what I know now—which isn’t much because it is so new to me—but it’s very liberating and healing to see this community. To see that the stigma around mental health isn’t warranted because I truly believe everyone is going through something, whether it be them or a person very close to them.

What does it say about the current landscape—you’re clearly getting a lot of traction on your story—that a guy like Royce White can come out with a similar story a while back and the reception is much, much different compared even two or three years ago?

I think, in regards to Royce White, I’ve commended him publicly on being at the forefront of this. It’s so tough to understand something when you can’t see it. Channing Frye has been on this series talking about his heart problems. It’s tough to understand. I’ve dealt with some concussions as well, and I’m like ‘I’m really struggling here…I’m disoriented’, but you can’t see it. To not only fully diagnose it, but understand it… I think mental health is a big part of that. Royce was ahead of his time and was very outspoken in that regard, but with DeMar opening the door for me and allowing me to share my truth with the masses was very needed in this social climate. I think it’s very positive and fortunate. In a lot of situations, timing is everything. In Royce’s case, he was looked at differently at the time which was unfortunate.

You mentioned your agent. How vital was Jeff [Schwartz] and how different would this have been if you were surrounded by different representation?

He’s been like a father figure to me. He’s a best friend and agent on the business side, but a father figure. So to have his support and for him to ask the right questions and have confirmation on his side was extremely important. I don’t know if I’d be sitting here today otherwise. My intuition tells me something and I feel like I made the right decision. But having his full support was huge.

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What about someone like [your manager] Shannon [McGauley]?

It’s one thing, and not to say too much, but Jeff doesn’t fully understand it as he hasn’t dealt with something like this or a very extraordinary situation. Maybe he has at certain points of his life, but Shannon has shared a lot of her experiences with me and was able to empathize, commiserate—which is not funny, but I laugh at it now. Just to have her full support, shes continued to be there for me in the fullest.

In the episode with Michael Phelps, he was talking about “sharpening your tools.” What are those tools and how much do they differ from person to person?

Yeah, they definitely differ in each and every person. Michael has been very vocal and very in the open about what he’s dealt with so he’s had a little more time than me in sharpening, but his are also different. For me, it’s in meditation, working on my body, using basketball and working out, and making sure I feel good physically. When I’m good physically, I feel like I play better. And being my size, when I’m walking around, feeling good in my body, my mental state and temperament is a lot better. So that is a tool I try to sharpen as well as to help me elongate my career, so there’s multiple sides to it.

Then there’s the escapism, whether it be TV shows—anywhere from Game of Thrones to Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain—there are so many ways to get away from things. You know, the last four years, when you’re expected to win and win at a very high level, you also want to find ways to get away from it to keep things fresh and keep chasing them.

How much has personal style been an outlet in that regard?

Stressful [laughs]. No, I love creating. I think, at least, the most fun I’ve had is the partnership with Banana Republic and to be able to grow with them and evolve to a point where I can create my own line. Style has been very, very fun and a way to express myself. In the NBA, it’s a beautiful thing. You get to walk into an arena and show exactly who you are.

Kevin Love Cavs Cavaliers Pacers

Scott Sargent/WFNY

I may be reading to much into this so feel free to tell me if I’m being an asshole, but when you showed up in 2014, you were much more reserved, much more quiet. Postgame press conferences, you didn’t look like you were having much fun. Fast forward to last year, a much different person. This year, especially post contract, clearly a different person. How much of that is related to the liberation of what’s taken place over the last nine months or so.

It’s been a transition since I got to Cleveland, really. I had a poor or sour taste in my mouth thanks to the last little bit in Minnesota, so I came to Cleveland with my head down, keeping quiet and just going about my business. I think that led to people not understanding who I am and what I’m about. So just opening up and being, in a lot of ways, just being myself. I’ve always been this guy behind the scenes. It just took me a while to allow myself to feel comfortable in every setting. I’ve now allowed myself to be vulnerable from this, but also know that no matter how bad you think a situation is, not only will it work out, it’s never as bad as it seems. Just walk the walk and feel good and it’ll continue to help you live well. I know that was all over the place, but I was in a different frame of mind when I got to Cleveland, now I’ve seen it all and done it all to this point. It’s really helped me be the man I am today. I’m nowhere close to where I want to be, but it’s about looking in the mirror and giving myself a pat on the back.

Channing [Frye] had mentioned the difficulties of being a professional athlete. How legit are those struggles? I know fan perception can be one of you being paid a lot of money to play a game, but an 82-game schedule is a grind and long road trips can’t be easy.

I think, I know this isn’t a direct answer to the question, but a lot of guys feel that they can’t express themselves in the right way and what they’re going through because of how the organization, coaches, or teammates are going to look at them and maybe see them as unreliable. There are so many pressures in this game and it’s hard to have people be empathetic about what we go through on a daily basis, but from what I’ve learned in this short time of looking inward, is that success is not immune to depression. It’s a simple concept, but it strikes so true to each and every person. Especially in our walk of life. If it’s in entertainment or anyone else who’s had success, there are so many layers to this that everyone has their own stuff that they go through. You can’t take that for granted.

To wrap things up, how tough has it been to watch your current teammates from afar following your toe injury?

Oh, it’s been really tough. Obviously, we had higher hopes for this year. We were expecting to be healthy and to perform, but we’ve had three or four guys hurt. We’ve played our younger guys who are learning on the fly and playing heavy minutes. There are going to be ups and downs. Times where they hit the wall, or times where they hit the learning curve. This is going to be a big growth year heading forward. More than anything, we just want to continue to thread this needle as a team and continue to move forward for what we want to accomplish.

Thanks again for the time. I look forward to catching up when you’re back out there.

Thank you.

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As we head into Thanksgiving and the Holidays WFNY is joining up with Schick to encourage fans to donate to the Movember Foundation and Kevin Love Fund at www.Omaze.com/LoveHydro. From those who donate, one grand prize winner and a guest will also get a trip to Cleveland to see a Cavs game and receive a Locker Room Talk Meet and Greet with Kevin. Schick Hydro is the official razor of Movember and the brand will also be contributing to both charities. The season finale of Locker Room Talk will debut next Monday, 11/19 and will feature “The Truth” Paul Pierce.